I’m Charles Schnake and This Is How I Mesh

I grew up in the woods just outside of a small logging town called Philomath, Oregon. My friends and I would run around the forest building tree forts, playing paintball, and getting poison oak. My father was an engineer by training and worked for HP his entire career. Given that he and I are very alike, it’s no surprise that I gravitated toward an education and career in STEM as well. Instead of traditional team sports, I participated in my high school’s FIRST Robotics team, and that pretty much cemented my trajectory into engineering. Out of the blue I developed a fascination with aerospace specifically, and that culminated in me attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) in Prescott, AZ for my B.S. in Aerospace Engineering.

My first job out of college was at Rolls-Royce in Indianapolis as a structural analyst for the turbines group. I performed stress analysis of turbine components for 2.5-3 years before transitioning to a “design” role where I worked mostly on resolving manufacturing issues, cost-saving initiatives, drawing changes, and numerous other tasks that satisfied my desire to interact and communicate with a wide variety of people. During my 4 years at Rolls-Royce I also attended Purdue University to obtain my M.S. in Aeronautical & Astronautical Engineering.

Coming to work for Aerion Technologies (ATC) as a Sales Engineer was a bizarre confluence of a long-time desire I had harbored to work in aerodynamics, my growing appetite (& aptitude) for building professional relationships, and my wife’s all-consuming intent to move to the West Coast ASAP. I had never taken a CFD course and I hadn’t done any aerodynamic design since my senior capstone project. I had also never sold anything in my life…but they took a chance on me and brought me in to help sell & support ATC’s CFD package, Cart3D. I’m lucky that things worked out the way they did and I’m still not quite sure how it all happened so perfectly.

Since joining ATC I have learned enough CFD to be dangerous with Cart3D, but I haven’t done much with other mainstream tools. I’ve built countless relationships with folks at aerospace companies, software vendors, and universities. At the start of 2018 I graduated from helping wherever help was needed to making decisions about which customers to pursue, what marketing strategies to employ, and even contributing to driving the direction of our company. I would have never predicted that this is where I would be when I graduated from ERAU ~8.5 years ago, and I still wouldn’t have gotten it right ~4.5 years ago when I started at ATC. It’s been a wild ride and I wouldn’t change where I’m at now for anything.

  • Location: San Francisco, CA
  • Current position: Business Development & Sales Lead at Aerion Technologies
  • Current computer: Dell Precision 5510 w/ Intel Xeon (4 cores, 2.8 GHz), 32GB RAM, & a NVIDIA Quadro M1000M running Windows 10 Enterprise.
  • One word that best describes how you work: Insightfully.

How do you know Pointwise?

I know Pointwise because we both market our software to a similar audience. I’ve run into Travis, Zach, John, and others at numerous events since I began working for ATC (formerly Desktop Aeronautics) in 2014. We usually have booths near each other at the AIAA conferences, and I’ve also attended talks they’ve given at events like the OpenVSP Workshop and the SU2-Pointwise Workshop. My experience with the Pointwise software is, unfortunately, limited to a training session that Travis led at the SU2-Pointwise workshop, but it was a great experience!

What do you see are the biggest challenges facing CFD in the next 5 years?

I think that a big problem I see being wrestled with right now is the scalability of CFD, and by that I don’t just mean the ability of the solvers to run efficiently on many nodes/cores. How can we (engineering software vendors) enable CFD engineers to run more simulations, evaluate more designs, and gain more insight faster? Engineering organizations employ countless brilliant minds whose impact can sometimes be blunted by processes and tools that bottleneck the rate at which they can produce design insight. There are numerous technical sub-challenges that must be tackled to achieve this, such as how to robustly (and parametrically) produce simulation-ready geometries, better ways to produce high-quality meshes for iterative design in a hands-free manner, faster running CFD codes, more flexible access to scalable computing resources, and, of course, how to store, sort, and glean insight from an enormous amount of data.

One challenge that ATC is particularly well suited to address is producing high-quality meshes for iterative design. Adaptive Mesh Refinement (AMR) methods have grown to be so efficient & so robust that designing the perfect mesh no longer stands between the simulation engineer and achieving simulation-driven design workflows. Adjoint methods for AMR, like the one used in Cart3D+, are particularly effective because they “reveal” the regions of flow that are most critical to the problem at hand by resolving the mesh where it counts. These revelations are extremely powerful when non-intuitive off-body regions of the flow are contributing significantly to the results. To take things a step further, analysts can use the mesh developed by Cart3D’s Adjoint AMR to seed a Pointwise mesh for downstream analysis with higher-fidelity solvers.

There is another layer of non-technical challenges that can impede scalability though, and those are the organizational ones. Oftentimes the CFD engineers are isolated (to an extent) from the design process. The simulation experts work tirelessly to provide expert level insight into whatever problems they are tasked with, but all too often that task is limited to evaluating a fixed design or making small-scale feature adjustments. My hope is that if we provide solutions to the technical challenges associated with scalable CFD then organizations will be in a stronger position to advocate for surrendering more design authority to the CFD (and other simulation) experts, and do so earlier in the design cycle. More insight, sooner = $$$. We’ve been expounding on this idea with some recent posts at our company blog; go check it out when you’re done here.

What are you currently working on?

I’m part of a team that is trying to bootstrap ATC to become much more than a provider of aerodynamic design tools. We see an opportunity to take the things we have built and apply them to a much broader set of engineering challenges in exciting new ways. In the meantime, we have unique and powerful aero design tools that we want to share with the aerospace & adjacent industries. Every single day I’m learning something new about digital marketing, sales best practices, legalese, web design, leadership, or software engineering. What I lack in experience I’m making up for with passion for the business, love for my coworkers, and a hunger for learning in general.

What project are you most proud of and why?

If I limit myself to thinking about the projects I’ve tackled since taking on my current role, I would say I’m most proud of orchestrating the launch of ATC’s new website, https://aerion-tech.com. The website itself is simple (by design) but it represents, in a very public way, a revitalization of our organization. On January 1st, 2018 ATC became separate entity from our sister company, Aerion Supersonic (ASC), and we were given a new mandate to build the software business independent of ASC’s business jet program. As part of that mandate we have a chance to take a fresh look at our brand, our products, and our vision, and we are pursuing each with vim and vigor.

Are you reading any interesting technical papers we should know about?

I don’t read too many technical papers these days, our office is full of PhD’s who are better suited to the task, but I do keep my ear to the ground. There is at least one paper coming up for SciTech 2019 that I’m excited to read by a gentleman named Benjamin Brelje at the University of Michigan. He posted a visually compelling cartoon of some aero-shape optimization on LinkedIn and I’m dying to know more. Pro-tip for all you presenters out there: post some compelling graphics/video on social media leading up to the conference; I suspect Ben’s talk will be well attended this year.

Most of the reading I do these days is either industry news, such as in AIAA’s Daily Launch newsletter (if you aren’t currently getting it, you should be), or generic business/leadership books. I have a brutal commute between SF & Palo Alto, so I take advantage of that time to listen to audiobooks both for professional development and for fun.

What software or tools do you use every day?

Nowadays I’m not using technical software very often, so my daily drivers are Microsoft Office, HubSpot (our CRM & marketing software), JIRA, LinkedIn, and Google AdWords/Analytics. A few times a year I re-learn how to use our video editing tool, Camtasia, and if it’s just for something simple I’ll tinker with our web development software, WordPress. I also use my whiteboard a lot.

What does your workspace look like?

That depends on how recently I attended a conference…I try to keep a neat desk, but when I cart home a backpack full of literature, business cards, and scribbled down notes my desk can suffer a lot of clutter until I get fed up and throw it all away. I have two monitors with a docking station (I cannot stand doing a lot of work on a single screen, let alone a laptop screen) and I use a full-sized mouse & keyboard. There’s a stack of Roskam’s Aircraft Design books propping up one of my monitors that have rarely served any other purpose, but seeing them brings back (mostly) fond memories of my senior capstone course at ERAU.

For this photo I felt compelled to hide a big stack of business cards and conference literature leftover from both the IAC 2018 & IMECE 2018 conferences, so it will probably look like this until after SciTech.

Do you plan on attending any conferences or workshops this year?

None in December, but for 2019 I plan to attend probably a half-dozen or so conferences. ATC will be exhibiting at AIAA SciTech in January (San Diego), Space Tech Expo in May (Pasadena), AIAA Aviation in June (Dallas), IAC in October (DC), and perhaps a couple others as well. If you’re reading this and plan to attend any of the conferences above, please stop by our booth and say hi!

What do you do outside the world of CFD?

I’m an avid snowboarder, so we’re entering my favorite season. Unfortunately, SF is about a 4-hour drive from the resorts at Lake Tahoe, but I try to make it up at least 10 times a year (hopefully more this season). I’m also planning to make a foray into backcountry snowboarding this season, which involves a whole lot more (expensive) gear and specialized training. During the “off-season” I get my adventure fix by mountain-biking. I also love backpacking with my wife and our German Shepherd dog. When I’m feeling lazy I’m content to read, play computer games, eat good food, & drink good beer.

What is some of the best CFD advice you’ve ever received?

“Don’t run on the head-node.”

If you had to pick a place to have dinner, where would you go?

I’m a relatively laidback person who prefers a comfortable casual atmosphere, so I really enjoy a hole-in-the-wall joint serving up street & comfort foods. That said, if we’re talking bucket-list type establishments I would choose a three Michelin star establishment like Alinea (Chicago), Jiro (Tokyo), or Meadowood (Napa). The formality of it all would probably make me a little uncomfortable at first, but I imagine that the quality of the food & service would eradicate that in short order and leave me with an unforgettable experience.

About Travis Carrigan

A Pointwise engineer helping other engineers solve their meshing problems.
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